What Is the Greatest Gain of All?
NOT many years ago it was a common thing for married men in the southern provinces of China to leave their families behind, knowing full well that they would not see their wives and children again for ten, twenty or more years. They would travel to a foreign country and there work day and night like slaves, living frugally and saving as much as possible for the time when they would return home. Their great goal was to retire. This meant buying a piece of land so that they could enjoy its produce during the remaining years of their life. They considered gaining that goal to be a great achievement.
What about those persons who did not go abroad seeking fortunes, but who stayed behind in their own country? They too pursued a similar goal in life. They worked very hard, often seven days a week, ten to twelve hours a day, making money and laying it away in the hope of retiring and living comfortably until they died.
In the end, were these people who made wealth their chief goal in life happy and contented? They had spent tremendous amounts of time and energy in their effort. As family members they had very little time to be together and do things together, and, hence, little attention was devoted to building up a warm and loving family relationship. Often their health was damaged from working excessively long hours, year in and year out, without proper rest. Frequently they suffered from deficiencies in their diet, owing to their frugality. As a result, by the time they had gained enough wealth to acquire the desired material comforts, they no longer had the health or ability to enjoy the luxuries that their money could buy.
Such frantic pursuit of material riches is by no means a thing of the past. Today, in Hong Kong, many young people study extremely hard in schools, often to the detriment of their health, in order to get good grades and graduate with honors. Even after completing their basic education, and after they go to work for a living, many still go to night schools in order to improve their education. No, not so much for the sake of gaining knowledge itself, but in order to get a better-paying job.
This passionate pursuit of material wealth as a grand prize is a concept that penetrates the thinking and activity of a great many Chinese people. This, in turn, influences their view of such matters as family relationships. For example, the rearing of children is viewed by them somewhat like taking out an insurance policy. The parents provide the young children with the necessities of life and education, so that when they are grown up they, in turn, can pay back their debt by supporting their parents, even though the parents are fully able to work.
In one case a boy asked his parents: “Didn’t you raise me for love?” They replied: “No, for money!” In another instance, a tourist was told while traveling through the Orient, “You Americans have social security to take care of you in your old age, but we have children!”
Let no one think that this pursuit of materialism is something that afflicts only people in the Orient. Not by any means! It is a malady that has spread around the globe and plagues most of earth’s population in one way or another. Millions of persons make money their god, their object of worship, and thus become victims of a false religion that enslaves its devotees. As the saying goes: “Mammon is the largest slaveholder in the world.”
Is It Worth the Cost?
No question but that people pay heavily when they desperately strive to accumulate material riches. This raises the question: Is it worth it? Do these people gain a truly great goal, or do they actually miss out on the real purpose of living? Are they, in fact, cheated through a false concept of what the greatest gain of all really is? “He is a great simpleton,” someone once wrote, “who imagines that the chief power of wealth is to supply wants. In ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it creates more wants than it supplies.”
There is a Chinese saying, ‘Birds will die for food, but men will die for money.’ Since ancient times, how often men have risked their lives, or even paid with their lives, in seeking material wealth! Many try to get rich quick by engaging in illegal or dangerous activities, resulting in their being caught by law-enforcement agents or even being killed. Others work like slaves to accumulate wealth, ruining their health and leaving little or no time to spend with their loved ones. Many young people feel, not without justification, that overemphasis on materialism within the family weakens the love of parents for their children as well as respect of the children for their parents.
So it must be concluded that a materialistic view of life, with the pursuit of wealth as the chief goal, is both unreasonable and impractical. In contrast to the unbalanced view that so many people display toward the pursuit of material wealth, the teaching of God’s Word the Bible on the matter is altogether sound and satisfying. If followed, it can contribute much toward achieving improved family relationships and personal happiness in one’s life.
The Bible’s Balanced View
Contrary to what many people think, the Bible does not condemn the possession of material wealth. Some of God’s faithful and approved servants in the past, such as Abraham and Job, were men of great wealth. The Bible acknowledges that money can serve a useful purpose, “for a protection,” in the present system of things.—Eccl. 7:12.
At the same time God’s Word condemns a greedy “love of money,” saying that some of those “reaching out for this love . . . have been led astray from the faith.” And besides that, they “have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” Hence, the emphatic warning: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin.”—1 Tim. 6:9, 10.
Instead of pointing to material wealth as the greatest gain, the Bible counsels: “To be sure, it is a means of great gain, this godly devotion along with self-sufficiency. For we have brought nothing into the world, and neither can we carry anything out. So, having sustenance and covering, we shall be content with these things.” (1 Tim. 6:6-8) Or, as this same writer, the apostle Paul, puts it in another letter: “Let your manner of life be free of the love of money, while you are content with the present things. For he has said: ‘I will by no means leave you nor by any means forsake you.’”—Heb. 13:5.
Jesus pointedly asked: “Really, what does a man benefit himself if he gains the whole world but loses his own self or suffers damage?” (Luke 9:25) As any sensible person can readily see, life is far more valuable than material possessions, since without life he cannot enjoy anything at all. Life is a gift from the great Creator, Jehovah. Lovingly, he has made definite arrangements for all those who love and worship him to gain everlasting life under righteous conditions. So, to receive this wonderful gift of eternal life in God’s righteous new system of things—is this not truly the greatest gain, the most precious gift, that man can ever aspire to get?
With this proper evaluation of matters one will not fail to ‘pay back God’s things to God,’ namely, the worship and devotion that his creatures owe him, and thus prove that they are worthy of the precious gift of life from the great Source of life.—Matt. 22:21; Ps. 36:9.
Furthermore, Jesus declared: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) This clearly shows the importance of taking in knowledge from God’s Word the Bible. One of the most important things the Bible teaches us to do is to ‘work with our hands, so as to be walking decently as regards people outside and not be needing anything.’ God certainly hates people who are lazy and who refuse to work.—1 Thess. 4:11, 12; Prov. 6:6-11; 21:25.
Furthermore, the Bible shows family members their proper place in the home, how they can live in peace and harmony, treating one another with genuine love and respect. (Col. 3:18-21) God’s Word also shows us how to deal with the many problems that beset mankind everywhere, such as the moral delinquency that is sweeping the world. So in all matters the Bible helps us to keep a balanced view, putting spiritual interests first in our lives. By making our prime concern the maintaining of proper relationship with our heavenly Father we have a real purpose in life—to serve our great Creator Jehovah and do good to our fellowmen.
We can all profit from Jesus’ counsel set out in his Sermon on the Mount when he said: “Stop storing up for yourselves treasures upon the earth . . . Rather, store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” And whether we are rich or poor we can all benefit greatly from the Bible’s admonition to those wealthy in a material way: “Give orders to those who are rich in the present system of things not to be high-minded, and to rest their hope, not on uncertain riches, but on God, who furnishes us all things richly for our enjoyment; to work at good, to be rich in fine works, to be liberal, ready to share, safely treasuring up for themselves a fine foundation for the future, in order that they may get a firm hold on the real life.”—Matt. 6:19, 20; 1 Tim. 6:17-19.
Getting “a firm hold on the real life” by meeting the requirements set down by the Creator of life—this indeed is the greatest gain that can be obtained!